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Where Are The Star Managers


Mutual fund star managers today are struggling to find their stride in choppy markets.

To be sure, Bruce Berkowitz of Fairholme Funds is enjoying a strong first quarter having posted a 31% return. This after a horrendous 2011 in which he lost more than 32% versus the Standard & Poor's 500 index return of 2%.

Bill Gross' PIMCO Total Return fund was also in the black in Q1 (2.8)% after returning 3.7% last year on the back of an ill-timed move to sell investments in Treasury bonds. Those rallied as investors sought out the least risky assets last summer.

Managers that have not fared well are leaving the industry. These now include Bill Miller, who made a name for himself by beating the S&P 500 for 15 consecutive years through 2005 via Legg Mason Value Trust.

However, his current fund, Legg Mason Capital Management Opportunity, which dropped 35% last year, rebounded to about 26% in Q1. Miller last month resigned from his post as co-manager of Value Trust.

As well, on March 1, Marty Whitman left the Third Avenue Value Fund, which he began in 1990 and managed until July 2009. During that time the fund's annualized return averaged 12%. Whitman will continue to manage a private concentrated value fund for accredited investors, which will be seeded by a portion of his holdings in Third Avenue Value Fund, according to the firm.

In April, a Cogent Research study revealed that over the past year investors have significantly reduced the average number of fund families with which they work from 1.9 to 1.56. In the same breath, the report also revealed that investors are three times more likely to increase investments with current managers as they are to redeem investments -- an indication of strengthened loyalty to their existing providers.

So where is the next wave of star managers going to come from? Is it in the form of Larry Pitkowsky and Keith Trauner, disciples of Berkowitz who left to form GoodHaven Capital Management in late 2010? Will it be Third Avenue Value fund's portfolio manager Ian Lapey, who co managed the fund with Whitman since 2009?

The search is on for the next star fund manager.